Sunday, August 28, 2011

Standing Your Ground Through Anger

I'm feeling a bit battle weary this morning. Last night, I was kicked, punched, bitten and hit.

And it was all from my own son.

The child I have spent every waking minute nursing back to health for over two weeks. My first born.

Oh, it isn't the first time it has happened, but, does a parent ever get used to that?

We've taken a couple steps back in his healing process. Whereas most kids can have a stomach bug and bounce back by the next week, it takes at least a month until we see a bit of normalcy in our older friend. For now, it has become difficult, and we returned to the doctor for a new set of instructions on how to proceed for the next couple days.

One part of his GI system is upsetting another and then a's a mess. And, so, as he cried his way through yesterday, I hit my point of insanity--you know, that point where you can laugh and cry at the same time and genuinely mean both emotions. Looney.

Frankly, he was done with me. He sent me from his room, and I happily left--I think I even skipped away. I grabbed a set of ear plugs to dull his cry and tried to find my mental happy place--a warm, breezy beach far away from autism.

I could never quite make my destination. On and on and on and on our son cried. He was loud and mad, and with each new wave of cry, he seemed to pick up steam. He started breaking his toys, ripping apart books and attempting to eat whatever was in his way that was not food. He was out of control.

To be sure, in people with autism, particularly low-to-nonverbal people like our older son: behavior is a form of communication.

It is impossible for me to ever, EVER get this out of my mind when I am with him or advocating for him. And, sometimes, it isn't always easy to figure out exactly what that person it trying to convey.

When our son is crying, it can mean a host of things from pain to fear to missing a toy to plain old depression. As I work through this maze with him, I'll ask questions. I'll try to put words to feelings he might be having. Last nigt, I must have been way off track. As I went down the road of one particular topic, he reached right out and pinched me.

"Hey!" I said indignantly. " You could have just told me that my voice is all done!"

"Go!" He said.

Yet, leaving him alone was only making his crying worse. Whatever "it" was that started the crying, bis message had changed. At this point, he was just plain angry, and my husband and I could not continue to let him tear apart his room and put himself in danger with the rage.

I returned to his room. We had to take control. Any parent--not just special needs parents--are called to the task of shaping the emotions and reactions of their children. It is not okay to lose control. It is not okay to destroy property in anger. It is not okay to lash out.

I believe that the line between what is and is not okay is a social norm that has escaped him at this young stage in his life. And, trying to reason during a highly emotive situation is not the best time to teach. However, these were the cards we were dealt.

Any verbal attempt failed. He was so emotional that those lines of communication were shut down. Any time I tried to come close to calm, he responded physically. We tried every angle as he screamed and screamed and broke his toys and kicked us.

It was time to force the issue. The one thing that would calm him is in the dreaded night time car ride. I don't think he even listened to us as we asked him to come to the car, so, eventually we picked him up.

Ugh. The struggle. The carrying. The fighting. The kicking (him). The screaming (him). It was so very ugly to me. He needed this and yet was refusing it with every fiber of his being.

"Your parents are trying to teach you to go to the places to make you feel good when you are crying and feeling so, so awful," I told him, trying to explain why we would put him anywhere against his will....our beautiful son. Our child.

We battled. The parents won, but we were all losers in this effort.

My husband drove off in the car, and I dropped to the ground and sobbed, not caring who might be lurking in the shadows of the night. I sat there truly heartbroken for what we had endured.

I still am.

Twenty minutes later, they returned. Our older son was is usual self: a groggy little boy with sleepy cheeks, too tired to walk and happy to plop onto is dad for a piggyback ride. I couldn't get close enough to him! I just wanted to hold him and tell him that I was sorry and that I knew he was trying to tell us something but then he gave up on words and gave in to "mad!"

Mad can play a supportive role in the communication process. It can tell us when we have gone off track and where things have gone wrong. I don't believe, however, that this household has room for "mad" to be a permanent house guest.

Our older son allowed "mad" to move in and to take control. I don't suppose this is an uncommon battle among parents and children. Usually, however, the difference happens because of the gaps in cognition, the disability. But, how do you shape "mad" when it has been allowed to come in, take control of the original emotion, and overshadow what reason and abilities your child has?

It is a somewhat typical problem with an atypical spin. And, as I tucked my sweet child into bed, the boy who, not an hour before felt that I had betrayed him by stuffing him into the car like a rag doll, I wished for a verbal relationship with him. His eyes were sleepy, so I could not connect there. I touched his leg, and he said he was ready for me to leave so that he could sleep. He was calm. His medication had kicked in.

Downstairs, alone in the calm after the storm, I shook, and I cried. I cried for failing him. I cried for the disconnect in our communication. I cried for his anger. I cried for the ugly moment in our home.

I couldn't help but remember the staff at a former school that held him against is will for the better part of an hour. That was years ago, and the thought still makes me nauseous.

I wonder if he thought we were no better?

Sigh. As the morning has progressed, I've received messages from my special mommy friends who have admitted that these meltdowns are a part of the life. Our son is growing, maturing, developing both an opinion and an opposition. Parenting can get downright ugly over the simplest of things.

The one word of advice I have been given: consistency.

I know that we have done the right thing. But, still, with a broken heart, I will accept the advice to be consistent, and apply that to my efforts to make his voice heard. All the while, I will hope to avoid a battle of wills.

With a hint of fear, I also recall that the pre- teen and teen years are all about battling over wills.


  1. Thank you, Amy, for writing this~once again you have helped me in ways which you will never know! Karen

  2. Karen, thank you for the affirmation. To others I PROMISE. That I will return to my humor ehen the kids are in schooln however, tis summer, age and health of our cild has tested us. We are learning and struggling. I don't want any person to think that people who visit The Mom Cave are perfect. Gracious no!

    We love. We support. We ask questions. We are confronted, and we TRY. When that fails, we TRY YET AGAIN.

    This episode broke my heart. I love him. I hope I can find an easier way to teach him.

  3. I should learn not to type responses on my phone. Too many typos...